Health expert details how listening to birds in the morning can affect how long you live

Person waking up in the morning
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Sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch could have a surprising impact on your life and not just from an emotional or philosophical perspective. From listening to birds in the morning to riding rollercoasters and seeing death, sensory and perceptive experiences can change your physical body and affect how long you live, says one expert.

Neurobiologist Christi Gendron has been studying this phenomenon in the nervous system of fruit flies, which share 60% to 75% of the genes or genetic material as humans. Presenting her results as part of the Tedx series, the expert revealed that everyday perceptions could have an unsuspecting impact on your mortality as she proved “prolonged sensory events can impact the lifespan of an animal”.

She explained: “Let's say that you wake up one morning and are trying to decide whether to go to an amusement park. One of the very first things you might do is to step outside and check the weather. When you do, you see that the sky is blue, that the sun is out. You hear that the birds are chirping. You feel how warm it is on your skin.

“Based on all of this information, you decide it is a perfect day for going to the park. You have used your senses to impact your decision…Let's say you've arrived at that amusement park, and one of the very first things that you see is a roller coaster. You see the speed with which it moves. You see the twists and turns it takes. You see the terrified look on the riders' faces. You hear their screams.

“Right here, right now, this sensory event may be causing you to feel anxious or even excited, feelings that are associated with butterflies in your stomach, a racing heartbeat, even sweating palms. Your senses have caused your body to change. This is an example of how a very short sensory perceptive event can impact you.”

Initially, this was to research and develop therapies for people who see death and stressful situations every day such as soldiers and first responders. Christi’s research looked at how prolonged exposure to sensory events can impact physical health and longevity, particularly death, clarifying that despite common misconceptions “a fly can actually recognize another dead fly”.

She explained her sensory experiment: “If I take a vial of flies and I put dead in there, they send out a signal to other flies to stay away. We can measure this. You know those flies in the vial with the dead? They lose weight and they die sooner.”

Negating the possibilities that this could’ve been from infections or illness spread from the dead bodies, her team repeated the experiment in different environments including sterile, infection-free conditions. The only environment that drew different results was when the flies were in darkness.

Essentially, some sensory deprivation by not being able to see the dead flies resulted in the other flies living just as long as those that never had dead in their vials. Christie concluded: “This indicates that it is the sight of the dead that is causing all those biological changes, which impacts their lifespan.”

She continued: “There are many different environmental cues that impact the lifespan of animals. These include the temperature that the animal is kept in. These include the smell of food, the wavelength of light they are exposed to, even the perception of pain. In order for us to develop therapies that promote healthy aging, we must understand the basic biology of all of these cues, because after all, we don't live in a world where we receive one cue at a time.”

She admitted that there’s much more research still to be done in this arena, particularly around understanding the physical changes sensory experiences cause, although so far she has noted that serotonin and insulin have a role. While she reluctantly couldn’t advise which sensory experiences would allow people to live longer, she looks forward to “pushing hard towards this type of understanding” in her work.